When rumors of Sprint and T-Mobile first cropped up in March 2008 thanks to Merril Lynch analysts, quite a few pundits out there thought it was a perfect idea to get the carrier on equal footing with its much bigger competitors. There’s a huge problem however with this marriage: cellular technology.
In current form, a Sprint and T-Mobile merger would be a hodgepodge. You’d have a CDMA network (Sprint), an iDEN network (Nextel), and a GSM network (T-Mobile). None of these technologies are really compatible, nor is there a phone out there that could successfully jump from one tower and technology to another.
But of all people, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse has started the conversation anew. He told the Financial Times Tuesday that a pairing would have some “logic” to it. How? Pretty simple — Sprint could viably build an LTE network to partner with its WiMAX efforts, and T-Mobile is also on the path to the same technology as well.
(It should be mentioned that within say two to three years, the topic of cellular technology is going to be pretty much moot as all the major carriers save Sprint have considerable LTE plans. Benefit to the consumer? You bet. Manufacturers won’t have to worry about producing two versions of the same phone.)
Sprint is serious about its LTE move: it is already seeking bids to deploy the technology over its network. This is not to say it’s forgetting about WiMAX: the way the FT is reporting, it sounds like that’s part of what Sprint is looking for bidders to do.
No matter what the talk is, the only way T-Mobile would be able to effectively compete with either Verizon or AT&T is through a merger. It’s running short of spectrum — always an issue for the nation’s fourth biggest carrier — and coverage still remains spotty even after nearly a decade on US soil.
In one fell swoop, those problems could be alleviated. But the sticking point still remains the technology. No LTE for Sprint will mean no merger, and I think that’s pretty clear.